Reporting Services Quietly Develops

Sometimes companies try to create FUD—fear, uncertainty, and doubt—by announcing a product months or years in advance of its release to keep customers from investing in a competing product. Lately I've been wondering if Microsoft is trying to create the opposite—anti-FUD.

In case you missed it, Microsoft has posted information about the upcoming release of SQL Server Reporting Services (formerly code-named Rosetta). The site, which gives only minimal information, says that Reporting Services will be a full-life-cycle reporting platform, providing report authoring, management, and delivery. Microsoft is keeping most information about Reporting Services under nondisclosure agreement (NDA). But I can say that Reporting Services is poised to profoundly improve the way developers build, send, and receive database reports—as well as consumer phone or credit card bills or business-to-business (B2B) invoices.

Microsoft plans to release a beta of Reporting Services late this summer. At this stage of development, most Microsoft products are surrounded by a flood of marketing information. Interestingly, there's been barely a squeak about Reporting Services. Microsoft has been developing Reporting Services for more than 2 years. I've known about the product for more than a year, and I'm amazed at how tight a lid Microsoft has kept on the product's existence. Forget about early discussions of features—Microsoft didn't even want people to know the concept for such a product existed. Truly anti-FUD behavior.

Why the secrecy? Many companies probably aren't thrilled about Microsoft's entry into the reporting marketplace, and Microsoft might not want to create FUD among partners such as Crystal Decisions. Reporting Services can do almost anything that Crystal Decisions' Crystal Reports can do. And Microsoft will bundle Reporting Services in the SQL Server box and will likely make the product free in different versions of SQL Server (final pricing hasn't been set). I can imagine a bunch of Crystal Reports product managers frantically working on add-ons to the Reporting Services platform so that they can stay competitive. Microsoft has said nothing about its motives, but I speculate that the company might be delaying the publicity for Reporting Services so that highly valued partners such as Crystal Decisions can refine their partnering plans. In fact, Microsoft seems to be going to great pains to position Reporting Services as a platform around which an army of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) can build rich content and reporting tools. As part of this strategy, Microsoft is releasing Report Definition Language (RDL), which is an XML schema that describes a Reporting Services report. Any developer will be able to write RDL-compliant tools.

Another possible reason why Microsoft has delayed publicity is that the company might want to catch business intelligence (BI) competitors such as Business Objects and Cognos off guard. A lot of money is at stake in the enterprise BI market, and Reporting Services will step on a lot of toes. I'm not a financial analyst, but in February, CRN reported that the stock prices of such major players as Cognos, Microstrategy, Hyperion, and Business Objects "were hammered" when news of Reporting Services first started reaching the financial markets.

Although BI is important, it's still an emerging technology. But everyone needs to produce reports—the market is huge. And most of the initial information I've gotten about Reporting Services indicates that the product is quite good. Take a huge market with lots of potential revenue, mix in a product that can meet 80 percent of your customers' reporting needs, set an attractive price, and you have a product that's bound to be successful.

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